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What Does a Career in Human Resources Entail?

What your human resources career will include largely depends on what industry you choose and how far you go with your education. Almost every employment area in existence has a need for a human resource department or at least a couple human resources specialists or someone to take over human resource management, making a human resources program a great idea for anyone looking to get into business without performing a bunch of financial analysis. 

Many skill sets in human resources apply across the board including recruiting, interviewing, managing benefits, providing training, labor relations and conflict management, and hiring and termination of employees, though some of these tasks will only be performed by human resources managers. This means that communication skills will be very important in human resources careers of all kinds, whether graduates work as human resources specialists, a training and development specialist, human resources managers, or as other types of human resources professionals. However, there will often be industry-specific tasks assigned to you, as well. 

For example, if you work in the healthcare field, you will be responsible for verifying the certifications and license status of new hires, as well as periodic checks on current employees. For a career in the plumbing industry, you will need to understand local union rules and employment law and apply them to your hiring and termination decisions. If you enjoy interacting with people, having a variety of tasks, and think you might enjoy organizing training or benefits management, a human resources career might be a good fit for you.

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Overview of a Degree in Human Resources

While a degree in human resources targets employee matters in a company, there are several different positions you can apply for once you have the degree. While a bachelor's will typically be fine for a specialist position, higher level goals, such as roles in strategic human resource management, will often require a master’s business degree or human resource management program, plus some experience in the field using human resource strategies in HR management. Your options include human resources manager, compensation or benefits analyst, labor relations manager, and HR management information systems to name just a few. These jobs will require that you work with employees, labor unions, data on the best compensation packages in your company’s sector of business, etc. You'll hire specialists for your own department filling human resources jobs, as well as roles in supply chain management and office roles, maintaining employee and labor relations across the whole organization, supporting professional development and employee development, employee benefits, and keeping an eye out for legal and ethical issues.

Typical Online Human Resource Degree Requirements

The requirements for a degree in human resources will vary depending on what career level you are aiming to reach as well as what area of the workforce interests you. However, human resources education will be similar whether you plan to work in the public sector or private. For example, non-profit personnel, medical field personnel, and university employees are all required to interview, train, and perform background checks for new employees. Therefore, the coursework to gain the skill sets for those tasks will be the same in all areas. Your area of concentration courses will be where the more narrowly-defined skills are learned.

In addition, if you wish to earn an online master’s degree you’ll need to first complete a bachelors, however, there will be additional requirements and courses you will need to complete and you will be expected to specialize in a particular field, like healthcare or non-profits.

Typical Online Human Resource Degree Certifications

In addition to getting your degree, you can boost your career potential by obtaining human resource certification. Though certification is rarely required to find a position, it will make sure your resume stand out. Different certifications have different requirements. The following are examples of some of the more commonly recognized options.

  • aPHR - Associate Professional in Human Resources – You are only required to have a high school diploma or a GED to test for this knowledge-based certification.
  • PHR - Professional in Human Resources – Must have a masters or Ph.D. degree as well as at least one year of prior experience working in the industry, or two years of experience with an online bachelor's degree or a minimum of four years experience with less than a bachelor's degree.
  • SPHR - Senior Professional in Human Resources - Must have a masters or Ph.D. degree as well as at least four years of prior experience working in the industry, or five years of experience with a bachelor's degree or a minimum of seven years experience with less than a bachelor's degree.
  • PHRi - Professional in Human Resources (International) - Must have a masters or Ph.D. degree as well as at least one year of prior experience working in the industry internationally, or two years of experience internationally with a bachelor's degree or a minimum of four years international experience with less than a bachelor's degree. This certification is only available for those who live and work outside of the United States.
  • SPHRi - Senior Professional in Human Resources (International) - Must have a masters or Ph.D. degree as well as at least four years of prior experience working in the industry internationally, or five years of experience with less than a bachelor's degree, or seven years of international experience and less than a bachelor's degree. This certification is only available for those who live and work outside of the United States.

Exam/Experience Needed for a Human Resource Degree

While you will not need experience in the human resources field prior to getting your human resources degree several things should be noted about exceptions.

human_resource_degree_experience_neededIf you want to earn various certifications in the field work experience can take the place of some coursework. Most of the most common certifications allow you to either have a certain level of degree and some work experience or you can have more work experience and a lower degree. What this means for you is that working in the field will reduce the level of degree required and in many cases, this means you will be able to attain the certification more quickly. Certifications are worth money to you, as you can command a higher salary with more certifications.

In addition, if you are going to go for your master’s degree online or higher, those programs are not designed for automatic acceptance. It will be important that you maintain the highest GPA that you can while getting your undergraduate degree, and if you have even some part-time experience working in any human resource capacity, it can help with your program application.

Online Associates Degree in Human Resources

An online associate degree in human resources management typically takes two years to complete and, in many cases, can be done completely online. With an associate degree you can look forward to working in an entry-level human resources position.

Example courses include:

  • Business Ethics
  • Training and Development
  • Business Law
  • Compensation

Online Bachelor's Degree in Human Resources

Typically an online bachelor's degree in human resources management averages completion in four years. You can get it done sooner by attending summer school. It will take longer if you go less than full-time. With a bachelor's degree you can find a wide range of jobs in human resources, including heading up the HR department in smaller establishments.

Example courses include all of the above and:


Medical, Human Resources IT

Online Master’s Degree in Human Resources

This two-year online MS in human resources management degree opens doors to management and gives you job opportunities in all industries, including the public sector. Many government entities want the human resources manager to have a master’s degree or an MBA in human resources.

Example courses include all of the associate and bachelor's coursework plus:

  • Compensation Analysis
  • Workforce Planning
  • Strategic Labor


Public Sector, Non-Profits, Military

What Can I Do with an Online Human Resources Degree?

A human resources degree is a specialty offered by many online business degree programs. The coursework and internships involved will train you to excel in this dynamic and diverse field. HR graduates can become managers of an HR department within a corporation or they might work for staffing agencies that fill staffing contracts with other businesses. HR specialists also work as corporate recruiters, consultants, and even arbitrators in employment negotiations. Sub-specialties can also include compensation, benefits, and training. Ultimately, a degree in human resources will prepare you to work in one of the most important areas of business.

Human Resources Fields of Study

  • Employment, Recruitment, Placement: Whether you are working for a tech company or working with a project manager, it will be important that you are able to find the best talent for your organization. You’ll also need to be able to comb through possible hundreds of applicants for a single position and whittle it down to just the best, top candidates.
  • Compensation and Benefits Management: In this field, you won’t just help plan the company’s payroll, you’ll also look beyond the usual monetary compensation and figure out if there are other ways of engaging top talent and keeping them happy. This may include stock options and will definitely include personalized benefits plans for those who come to work for your company.
  • Training and Development Specialization: In order to keep a company up-to-date, employees often need ongoing training. This is especially true in companies that deal in a fast-paced business environment and those that require a high level of technology to maintain their supremacy in the market.

Human Resources Careers and Salary

If you’re interested in working with people or making sure that your company has best talent, HR is the place for you. You’ll have a variety of options available that will see you helping employees plan their benefits packages, mediating disputes, or head hunting the top talent from around the world. You’ll also find yourself in an excellent position to earn new certifications and increase your income exponentially as you increase the skills you bring to the table. In the next section, we’ll look in depth at just some of your options.

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Human Resources Career Options

  • HR Specialist
    A human resources specialist typically works under the supervision of a human resources director or manager. Your primary duties will include recruiting employees for your employer. You will then be expected to conduct at least the preliminary interview and narrow the candidates to those most qualified for the position. In some companies you will have the authority to offer the job, while in others you will set up interviews with managers and department heads who will then choose from the few you send to them.
  • HR Manager
    As a Human Resources Manager, you will typically oversee a human resources specialist staff. Your primary duty will be supervising the staff's day-to-day activities. This might mean approving any training programs, sitting in on classes to determine their value to the company and signing off on employee termination paperwork to be sure all legal rules were followed so that the company is protected from liability. Though specialists will usually handle unemployment claims, you might be expected to step in and represent the company if a former employee appeals a rejection for benefits and a hearing is scheduled.
  • Compensation or Benefit Analyst/Manager
    As a Compensation or Benefit Analyst/Manager you will be charged with analyzing past data for the company as well as industry data to devise reports that reflect trends and suggestions for the future. This will apply to hiring, attrition, benefits, and employee compensation packages. You will also oversee programs that have been implemented. This position is typically available in large companies, not small ones.
  • Labor Relations Manager
    If you choose to put your human resources degree to use by working as a labor relations manager, you will serve as a bridge between your company's workforce and outside organizations such as a worker’s union. You will be expected to take part in collective bargaining agreements, mediate disputes between the organization and the company, and suggest equitable and fair practices that stay within the bargaining agreement.
  • HR Information Systems Manager
    As an HRISM your job will involve the company's automated payroll system as well as providing software for employees to use to check vacation time, clock in or out, change personal information, and other things. While this position typically attracts those with an IT degree, you can major in human resources with a concentration on IT and combine these two skill sets.

Human Resources Salaries by Career

Occupation Entry-Level Median Annual Salary Mid-Career Median Annual Salary Late-Career Median Annual Salary
HR Specialist $44,900 $54,500 $61,100
HR Manager $51,300 $68,500 $75,200
Compensation or Benefit Analyst $50,200 $62,400 $64,300
HR Information Systems Analyst $52,500 $72,900 $85,500

Important Questions To Ask (FAQ)

How long does it take to earn a Human Resource bachelor's degree online?

The average length of an online bachelor's degree in human resources is four years. With that said, there are online HR programs that offer accelerated coursework which allows you to complete your degree more quickly by taking classes year-round. In addition, some online programs offer life and work experience credits. This means that you can apply any human resource work experience to the coursework and if you pass the final exam without taking the course you receive credit and move onto the next course.

The length of time it will take most students to complete an online human resources degree will also depend on how much time they can devote to their studies and coursework. Some colleges offer self-paced, flex scheduling, which means you can move as slowly or quickly as you want to.

How much does an Online Human Resource bachelor’s degree cost?

As with any other degree, the cost of a human resources bachelor's degree can vary widely depending on several factors. These include:

  • The school you attend
  • Whether you do online coursework, on-campus courses, or a combination of them both
  • How long it takes you to get through the program and graduate

A typical range of cost for this degree is $20,000 to $60,000
For example, in 2018:

  • University of Tennessee Knoxville cost just over $13,000 per year for in-state students and $31,000 a year for out-of-state students.
  • UC Berkeley – In-state, residing on campus, $30,582 annually. If you live off campus expect to spend $27,000.
  • University of Kansas – In-state tuition, $10,082 per year. Room and board, $6,500 to $14,500.

Online Human Resource Bachelor's Degree Coursework

human_resource_courseworkMany degree programs have similar classes due to the fact that the field has set standards of knowledge. If you know what type of industry you want to work in, you should find out if the school offers industry-specific concentrations. For example, if you wish to work in human resources in the non-profit sector, you will want a school that will offer at least a few classes about non-profits.

All in all, an online associate’s degree in human resources should include about 60 credits of coursework. An online bachelors will include around twice that, 120 credits. However, it may be possible to complete and associate’s and then transfer credits to your bachelor’s degree, shortening the time to obtain it while perhaps working part-time as an HR associate. This will help you gain experience in the field and make it easier to find a job or get into a graduate program later.

Does the school have the major(s) you’re considering?

This is a deal breaker if you are seeking a human resources degree. While it is possible to go to another college and gain your general education classes, then figure out which ones will transfer to a college that offers a human resources degree, that is a risky method to try. It can get expensive finding out some of your prior courses do not transfer to the new college. It is just easier and more cost effective all around to make sure the school you choose offers a human resources degree from the start.

How many students graduate “on time,” in four years?

If the online program has a low “on time” graduation rate, it is a red flag for you financially. Remember, you are going to pay for each semester, therefore, taking additional time is not a good plan. Be sure the school you choose has a high success rate of graduating students on time who sought human resources degrees. If you can’t find graduation rates on the website, you can look at the College Score Card website, which exists just for this reason, to help students find schools with the best chance of helping them succeed.

What kind of accreditation does the online program hold? How is it regarded in the field?

You have heard the saying, “location, location, location” with regard to real estate, right? The phrase for a human resources degree should be “accreditation, accreditation, accreditation!” Accreditation is a process that colleges go through to prove that they meet the academic standard expected nationwide with regard to the education and training they provide. If you do not choose an accredited school, you have no idea if you are going to be taught the skills needed to succeed in a career in human resources. In addition, while reputation isn't everything, it definitely counts when it comes to choosing a school. Employers often know which colleges graduate the most ready-to-work students. They are aware of which school have high standards for passing grades. Choose a school with a good reputation, especially if you plan to work in the area where you went to school. Locals will have the scoop on your college of choice, so choose one with a solid reputation.

Human Resources Scholarships

  • The Society for Human Resource Management Foundation
    Awards: Various
    Deadline: Various

    These scholarships can be applied to both undergraduate and graduate work. There are 80 scholarships of $750 each and 20 scholarships of $2,000 each. You must attend an accredited school and be in a certificate or degree program for human resources.

  • Gillete/National Urban League Scholarship
    Awards: $5,000
    Deadline: January 15

    Provides a $10,000 scholarship to students who are juniors or seniors in college. They must be working toward a degree in one of several named fields including human resources.

  • Hispanic Scholarship Fund/Exxon Mobil Scholarship Program
    Awards: $500-$5,000
    Deadline: February 15

    Any Hispanic- American student enrolled in an accredited program, seeking a degree in the field of human resources (or engineering and other programs) can apply for this $2,500 scholarship. The program provides several each year. Applicants are expected to have a 3.2 GPA.

Professional Human Resources Organizations

Once you are working in the field, there are many professional organizations you can join. These will not only give you the opportunity to meet new friends but will also provide you with plenty of networking opportunities to advance your career.

  • LERA


Society of Professional Human Resource Managers

Membership to this society offers you a multitude of education opportunities through articles and seminars. In addition, the SPHRM certification is widely respected and the site provides lots of advice.



Labor and Employment Relations Association

This association focuses on keeping up to date with the ever-changing employment and labor laws across the nation. By providing educational seminars and conferences across the country, it keeps human resource professionals on the cutting edge of new developments. It also has an interest area where each member can choose areas of concentration to receive additional information and networking opportunities.

Choosing an Accredited College

Okay, you have decided that you definitely want to get your human resources degree. It is time to choose an accredited college. In addition to the school being accredited and having the coursework or concentrations you seek, also consider things such as whether you will be happy living there for a few years if you are doing the on-campus classes. Are there things to do, what is the cost of living like? Will you be leaving family to attend and if so, will it be relatively easy for you to get back home to visit periodically? While these factors are not as important as the accreditation and appropriate coursework, they can make your college experience more enjoyable.

Online vs. Ground vs. Hybrid

Online programs are designed to be easy to use for those who need flexible schedules. Though they will have deadlines for certain tasks, they often allow you to log in any time of the day or night for you to watch lectures, take tests, and complete other necessary tasks. You may regret missing out on some of the cultural and networking opportunities on a college campus, but if you need the freedom to complete your courses on your own time, this is the choice for you.

On-campus, or traditional, programs require you to move either onto or near the campus of your choice and the school decides your schedule for you. This can make it difficult to impossible to hold down a job or accomplish much outside of school unless you have an excellent support structure in place. However, if you’re just out of high school, with no family or job obligations, you will appreciate the in-person time with your professors and other students and the networking and fun opportunities you will have on campus, as well as the library and other learning resources you’ll have access to.

A hybrid program would require you to spend some time on campus. This might be a couple short residencies per semester for specific lectures or you might take one or two classes on-campus while finishing the rest of your work online. You’ll have to work with whatever college you choose to find out if this type of program is available to you.

Deciding whether to go to an online college program, an in-person college or combination the two will narrow your choices for you by default. Once you decide this important factor, make a list of 5-10 colleges that offer the type of program you have chosen. Then you can do a side-by-side, apples-to-apples comparison.

Frequently Asked Questions

Does the College Have Post-Graduate Job Placement Help and Assistance?

Last but not least, find out of the college you choose as a post-graduate job placement office. If not, do the counselors attempt to help you prepare for interviews and point you toward possible job opportunities prior to graduation? Again, this is probably not a deal breaker, but if in your apples-to-apples comparison, all things being equal, one has a job placement program and the other does not, it might help you make your decision. Also, career services can be a great source of resume help, interview assistance, and job placement opportunities including internships.

Why You Need to Consider That School Ratings Can Affect Your Salary

Lastly, please do consider the rating and reputation status of any college you plan to attend, be it online, in person, or a combination of the two. It could potentially impact your salary and job offers. If you graduated from a school with a great reputation for sending graduates into the human resource field armed with a strong foundation, you will have a leg up on the competing applicants. All else being equal, use ratings to help you make your final college selection.

Is human resources an easy major?

As with most majors, the ease with which you can complete your program will depend greatly on your existing skills. However, it is considered generally true that those majors with a heavy focus on math and science are more difficult to complete. This may be because high-level math is difficult for many people, or it may be that there are more concepts involved that require memorization. Whatever the reason, many people find math and science (or STEM) majors more difficult than others. But human resources will require a lot of emotional intelligence in the long run. You will need to hone your problem-solving skills and be good at communicating and dealing with people. So, it’s possible that some who don’t already have excellent people skills may find this major more difficult.

What are the most difficult parts of an HR career?

While those with excellent people and soft skills may find an HR degree easy, that doesn’t mean that the job will always be a breeze. According to those in the field, the most difficult parts of the job include ensuring equitable compensation, identifying and hiring job candidates, managing benefits programs, and terminating or laying off workers. While it might be obvious why dealing with terminations is hard, other issues may not be so transparent. Why is it hard to maintain equitable pay and keep your employees from being lured away to other organizations? Well, in an ever-shifting economy, the pay for some positions can increase quite quickly. And not every company is transparent when it comes to payment. This can make keeping up with the current payscale for some positions more difficult.

What are the main roles of an HR professional?

These professionals will identify the needs of employees, know what is needed for department improvements, hire quality employees and ensure they receive the correct training for their positions, and work hard to retain employees as turnover is one of the highest costs for many industries.

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